• My colleagues report that lawyers working for Trump, who is irked by the ongoing investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, are actively building a case against what they believe to be Mueller's conflicts of interest. Mueller is investigating the Trump camp's ties to Russia, particularly in relation to the alleged interference in last year's presidential election, and is reportedly also looking into the Trump family's business dealings.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one person. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have discussed pardoning powers among themselves. The intrigue suggests that the president is both angry and concerned about the ongoing probe.

In a moving coda, Osnos also wrote about Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, who remains under a form of house arrest. This week, reporters seeking access to her residence were chased away and even attacked by plainclothes cops.

Here’s Osnos:

“For those who wonder if the world could’ve done more to help Liu in life, there is one final opportunity to celebrate his aspirations for freedom. His widow, Liu Xia, has been confined for years without charges, under forms of house arrest. It’s not clear what will happen to her now, but the world must demand—often, and repeatedly—that she be permitted to regain a normal life. Liu, behind bars, once wrote of his love for her. ‘Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body . . . and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning.’”

• As part of a series on six months of the Trump administration, my colleagues Anne Gearan and Carol Morello examine the stormy tenure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. America’s top diplomat has had a tough time, presiding over a State Department demoralized by proposed cuts and increasingly cut adrift from the White House. From the story:

“The nation’s oldest Cabinet department has a hollowed-out feel these days. Six months into Trump’s presidency, most of the top jobs remain unfilled, and ­lower-level hiring is largely on hold.

"‘There’s a lot of stuff where it’s not clear there’s anybody at the helm,’ said Ronald Neumann, a former ambassador who is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. ‘There’s a sense of incoherence in the way they fire people without replacements, shuttle people into the job and then have to shuttle somebody else into that job.’”

• The crisis in Venezuela is intensifying amid an opposition-led strike that paralyzed large sections of the country on Thursday. Many districts of the capital, Caracas, were shut down as businesses stayed closed and protesters blocked roads. Demonstrators and security forces clashed amid fusillades of tear gas, as they have on an almost daily basis since March, when a political spat — compounded by the country’s economic collapse — flared into a spiraling standoff between the government and the opposition.

The strike “unfolded as Maduro’s unpopular socialist government faced escalating international pressure to back off the special election on July 30. The vote would elect a body to rewrite the 1999 constitution and further squelch the opposition-controlled National Assembly in a move widely viewed by critics as a power grab,” wrote my colleagues.

They went on: “The Trump administration, pressed by prominent U.S. lawmakers, is weighing sanctions up to and including bans on Venezuela’s all-important oil exports if the vote is not called off. In an official report, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said Wednesday that there are fears that the situation in Venezuela ‘will escalate into a bloodbath.’”

• A day after the Trump administration decided to end CIA support for moderate Syrian rebels, fighters and rebel commanders in the country expressed dismay. From my colleagues:

"'We definitely feel betrayed,' said Gen. Tlass al-Salameh of Osoud al-Sharqiya, a group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. Salameh and his deputies say that they have received CIA support to rout the Islamic State from areas of eastern Syria but that they have also fought battles against pro-government ­forces.

"'It feels like we are being abandoned at a very difficult moment,' Salameh said. 'It feels like they only wanted to help when we were fighting [the Islamic State]. Now that we are also fighting the regime, the Americans want to withdraw.'

"'The picture is not clear for us yet, but I think it is a very bad move,' Col. Ahmed al-Hammadi, a Free Syrian Army commander in the Damascus countryside, said of the decision.

"'It will give a boost to the Assad regime and strengthen the Iranians,' he said, referring to Iran’s substantial support for Assad. 'And it will weaken America’s influence in Syria and the region.'"

 
Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of Austin Tice,&nbsp;hold up photos of him during a press conference Beirut on July 20. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)</p>

Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of Austin Tice, hold up photos of him during a press conference Beirut on July 20. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

The waiting game

Over the past six months, the Trump administration has made the release of American citizens held abroad a priority. There have been some successes. Aid worker Aya Hijazi was released by Egyptian authorities in April, while Otto Warmbier was released by North Korea shortly before his death in June.

Austin Tice, an American journalist who was kidnapped five years ago and is believed to be held in Syria, has not been released. On Thursday, his parents appeared at a press conference in Beirut to plead for his freedom.

"What is going to be required to resolve this issue and bring Austin safely home?" asked Debra Tice, the journalist's mother.

Tice's fate has become one of many tragic mysteries of the Syrian conflict. A former Marine, he traveled to the country as a journalist in May 2012. As the revolt in Syria expanded into full-blown war, he wrote freelance articles for several international news outlets — including The Washington Post.

But Tice vanished in August 2012, just two days after his 31st birthday. Though his family never received any ransom demands, a brief YouTube video uploaded six weeks later showed Tice blindfolded and surrounded by gunmen.

Syrian officials have denied any knowledge of his location, but the U.S. intelligence community issued an analysis last year that concluded he was alive.

The U.S. doesn't have a great record of recovering its citizens. A January report from the New America Foundation says Washington's refusal to pay ransoms helps make American hostages far more likely to be killed than other Western hostages. But earlier this year, Debra Tice told The Post she was optimistic about the new administration's efforts. "The communication with us is as strong as it has been," she said

The New York Times later reported that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had opened a back channel with the Syrian government to discuss Tice's release, but that the plan had "fizzled out" in April after tensions rose between Washington and Damascus following a chemical-weapons attack on civilians in Idlib province and the U.S. cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield that followed.

For now, the Tices are still waiting. This August 13 will mark the fifth anniversary of Tice's disappearance. In Beirut, Marc Tice said his family believed he would still make it home: "It is just a matter of excruciating time." — Adam Taylor

 

Boosting military spending has been one of President Trump's big issues, especially when it comes to NATO — Foreign Policy says he has a point when he says the alliance is obsolete. Emmanuel Macron is also facing his own issues over military spending, and the Independent thinks his military inexperience is already proving to be his first major weakness. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, The Post talks about why Kurds shouldn't be rushing to form their own state, while The Atlantic busts the myth of the Islamic State's strategic prowess.

 
Trump was right: NATO is obsolete
To fight the wars to come, the transatlantic alliance is going to need to start spending more — but not on tanks and fighter jets.
 
Macron has never experienced war — and it shows
It can be dangerous to have leaders with no experience of war, as Macron's spat with his military chief shows.
 
This is not the time for Kurdish independence
The Iraqi Kurds are pressing ahead with a vote on independence. They couldn't have picked a worse moment.
 
The myth of ISIS's strategic brilliance
The group has adapted to battlefield setbacks. But that doesn't mean it factored territorial losses into its master plan.

 

In recent years several Southern states and cities have decided to remove symbols of their Confederate history from the public sphere, sparking heated debate. But what happens when a monument is accidentally removed? The Post found out in Demopolis, Alabama. In other news, ProPublica uncovered the environmental damage caused by the open-air disposal of munitions waste all across America, while FiveThirtyEight reports from “Earth 2,” where Hillary Clinton is president and things aren’t as different as you’d expect.

 
A car crash topples a Confederate statue and forces a Southern town to confront its past
The monument had stood without controversy in tiny Demopolis, Ala. — half black, half white — since 1910.
 
How the Pentagon’s handling of munitions and their waste has poisoned America
The Pentagon’s handling of munitions and their waste has poisoned millions of acres, and left Americans to guess at the threat to their health.
 
If Hillary Clinton had won
What’s different – and what’s the same – in a world where the 2016 election went the other way?
 

Apparently it's not all doom and gloom in the Persian Gulf at the moment. The Dubai police have a new smiley-faced recruit that's been plastered on the glass dome of the al-Muraqqabat police station. "As per the directives of Dubai police commander in chief, Maj. Gen. Abdullah Khalifa al-Marri, to create more positive and happy vibes, we came up with the idea of drawing a gigantic smile face on the top of al-Muraqqabat Police Station,” said station director. The smiley face is also apparently coming to the city's other stations soon. (Dubai Police)


 
 
Why Japan’s first lady was probably not snubbing President Trump
Trump claimed Japanese first lady Akie Abe did not speak English. “Like, not 'hello,'" he told the New York Times.
 
Coffee with Viagra-like ingredient recalled after FDA discovery
The episode is the latest recall of coffee laced with ingredients to boost libido.
 
These boys thought they’d found ‘a big, fat rotten cow.’ It was a 1 million-year-old fossil.
Jude Sparks was 9 when he tripped over the fossil while on a desert hike near Las Cruces, N.M.
 

Remember tag? Well the childhood staple is now a professional sport.